Image: Please Rob Me website
Before you send your next angry tweet about the evils of Google Buzz or whatever, consider how you may be actively violating yourself on social networks every single day.
Helen Popkin
updated 2/19/2010 9:02:56 AM ET 2010-02-19T14:02:56

Honestly, the way some of you people behave online, it’s like you’ve never had a stalker.

How is it you never received two dozen roses anonymously while working Christmas Eve at your mall job? Felt that thrill devolve into ick when the 3 a.m. hang-up calls began? Contacted the cops for the first time when the plastic nativity Jesus showed up in a plastic diaper bag on your doorstep on New Year’s Day?

Maybe if you had, you’d be a little less “shocked” by the plethora of personal information available to anyone with Internet access. Alas, those among you who have never converted old shoe boxes into “evidence files” dated by month and/or year, treat vigilance as a fad — an occasion to sign an “Official Facebook Petition” to “stop invading my privacy!” whenever a news story warrants, only to forget about it days later.

But before you send your next angry tweet about the evils of Google Buzz or whatever, consider how you, yourself may be actively violating not only our personal privacy, but your physical existence with the stuff you post on social networks every single day.

If that’s too much work, here’s a new Web site does it for you: Please Rob Me, the newly launched social media aggregator dedicated to “listing all those empty homes out there.” The site’s stated purpose isn’t to provide better living through technology for thieves and other ne'er-do-wells; Rather, the opposite.

“So here we are; on one end we're leaving lights on when we're going on a holiday, and on the other we're telling everybody on the Internet we're not home,” reads the “Why” section. “The goal of this Web site is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc. Because all this site is, is a dressed up Twitter search page. Everybody can get this information.”

PC Magazine reported Thursday (Feb. 18) that Please Rob Me's associated Twitter account had been shut down for “suspicious activity,” but a feed was still available on the site. And even if this turns out to be a gimmicky spambot, it does at least make a valid plot point for a future “Law & Order” episode.

A few examples from the constantly updated feed, which mostly includes Foursquare entries, illustrates the point (user names removed):

  • left home and checked in less than a minute ago: Don't judge! I haven't had fast food in ages!! (@ McDonald's)
  • left home and checked in less than a minute ago I'm at The Pearl Cup (1900 Henderson Ave, McMilian Ave, Dallas).
  • left home and checked in less than a minute ago: I'm at New York Penn Station (7th Ave & W 32nd St, New York) w/ 10 others.

Video: Hey, @Robber: I'm not home Again, these are Foursquare entries, artifacts from the hipster-habituated, location-based social networking Web site in which you earn virtual merit badges by punching in your coordinates into your iPhone (or whatever) whenever you hit a bar, brunchery, hook up with other Foursquare participants, what have you. And as an added bonus, anyone who accesses your account not only gets your status, but a map revealing your real-time coordinates!

Consider yourself too savvy to engage in a location-based social networking Web site, just so you can earn imaginary kudos for “Superstar” (You've checked into 50 different venues!) or “Warhol” (10 different galleries!)? Well, get off your high horse, honey, because the finger wagging goes to you chronic Googlers and Facebook users who only heard about Foursquare just now.

“Internet shopping for burglars” is what reformed thief Michael Fraser calls it. Fraser, a member of BBC's "Beat The Burglar" series, helped a British-based insurance company with a social network surveylast year to find how just how easily people will reveal information to just about anyone.

Thirty-eight percent of the Facebook and Twitter users surveyed posted their holiday plans online, and 33 percent shared information about weekends away. "Coupled with the finding that an alarmingly high proportion of users are prepared to be 'friends' online with people they don't really know, this presents a serious risk to the security of people's home and contents," the insurance company said in a statement.

Please note, those are British people, who certainly sound smarter than Americans anyway. In both countries however we’ve been enjoying a growing number of criminals who incriminate themselves via social media. For example, this dudecharged with assault, drunk driving, drug possession and using a BB gun to kill birds, posted his address on both his Facebook and MySpace accounts.

(Following his arrest, the Lockport, NY police posted this note on his Facebook "Wall": "It was due to your diligence in keeping us informed that now you are under arrest.")

Meanwhile, the FBI has yet to announce a connection between crime and your Facebook status. But we can freak ourselves out over anecdotal incidents, such as the case of the Seattle video podcaster who tweeted his family vacation to the Midwest, only to return home to a jimmied back door and thousands of dollars of video equipment taken.

Now, there’s no way to know if the thieves were tipped by Twitter, “but we live pretty public lives,” Hyman said of he and his wife in an Associated Press interview.“I think probably in the future though I’m not going to be announcing when I’m heading out of town.”

Me, I wouldn't tweet a trip to Starbucks. But bad memories of that plastic nativity Jesus aside, personal privacy is probably at bigger risk than your high-end electronics. Or so I'm told.

“Posting ‘My big-screen TV is awesome, wish someone was gonna be home enjoying it, but everyone's gone for three days’ isn't the brightest move in the world,” says this one police officer I know from Facebook. “But it's not as high on the list as say, leaving your front door unlocked or your garage door wide open.”

Helen A.S. Popkin moans and groans about social network privacy, then shamelessly invites you to friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

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